Frank Stonemark was well-known in De Soto, Illinois. Hardworking, he had built up a successful rental property business with his first wife.
Their three children had roles in the family firm and the company steadily grew. But after 30 years of marriage, Frank and his wife divorced. He bought her out of the business and they started new lives apart.
The split was a shock, but it soon emerged that Frank, then 55, had been having an affair with one of his tenants, Carmen Noland, 33. After the divorce, Frank and Carmen became a couple and married in 2010.
Frank tried to get his children to accept the new woman in his life, but they were suspicious of her motives. Were her feelings for Frank genuine?
She seemed to enjoy all the trappings of having a wealthy husband, but would flirt with his employees.
As Frank reached his mid-seventies, he began to delegate business matters to Carmen.
He was suffering from health problems and started to take more of a back seat. After a lifetime of hard work, he was looking forward to his retirement.
But on 30 October 2017 Carmen went to the police and reported him missing. She said the day before, she and her husband had argued and he had walked out. He had driven off in his minivan and hadn’t returned.
Carmen admitted it wasn’t unusual for him to storm off after an argument, but he wasn’t usually away for a whole day. She told police she was concerned because he had been prescribed various medications for his ailments and hadn’t taken them with him.
The police started searching for Frank but there were no leads. They questioned family, friends and business associates and searched some of his rental properties. But there was no trace of him.
On 3 November Carmen contacted the police again, with further information. She said she’d discovered that Frank’s passport was missing and speculated he might have gone to the Dominican Republic, where he had once owned a property.
But investigators couldn’t find any evidence of him having bought a plane ticket or using his passport.
Detectives continued to look through statements and Frank’s financial records, as well as interviewing anyone who had worked with him.
One of them was James Deese, a 52-year-old maintenance man. He told officers he’d seen Frank on 29 October and reported that he’d seemed upset, although Deese didn’t know why.
Shortly after this, Carmen revealed that Frank had a gambling problem and after a losing streak had been asking people for a loan.
Detectives wondered whether he had been borrowing cash from the wrong people. However, they soon discovered that actually Frank hadn’t visited a casino in more than two years.
While police couldn’t fault Carmen for coming forward repeatedly in a bid to help them, they started looking into her movements as they pieced together Frank’s life.
It soon became obvious there was much more to her behaviour than simply flirting – she wasn’t the devoted wife she’d appeared to be.
A handyman who had worked for the company revealed he’d had an affair with Carmen – and that he wasn’t the only one.
As investigators delved deeper, they learnt that Carmen had been unfaithful to Frank with several of the firm’s maintenance men.
On 17 March 2018, Frank’s minivan was discovered in a car park in Paducah, Kentucky. Inside, police found blood stains – evidence that something serious had happened to the businessman. Detectives now believed they were getting closer to the truth.
And, as it turned out, the answers they were looking for would find them first.
Five months after Frank’s disappearance, James Deese called the police and made a shocking admission. He told them Frank was dead – and that Carmen was to blame.
He claimed that on the night of 29 October, she summoned him to her home and he arrived to find Frank lying dead on the floor. She wouldn’t reveal how her husband had died, but Deese said he could see blood.
Carmen warned Deese that if he didn’t help her dispose of the body he would not only lose his job but also his home, which was owned by Frank’s company.
Deese said the two of them had moved the body to one of Frank’s rental houses then driven the minivan to another state.
But something didn’t add up.
Why would Deese become involved in a potential murder case simply because Carmen had ordered him to? At this point, he admitted he’d been having an affair with her.
As he was being questioned, Carmen contacted police and reported a break-in at one of Frank’s properties – naming Deese as a suspect.
It seemed the lovers were starting to turn on each other. Deese was told that Carmen had pointed the finger at him and police suggested he cooperate fully and tell them all he knew.
Finally, he revealed the gruesome truth of what had happened to Frank.
Deese said that after he had started seeing Carmen, she admitted her marriage was on the rocks and she was worried that her repeated infidelities would mean Frank would cut her out of his will. So together they started plotting to kill him.
Carmen told Deese that once they had killed her husband, they would be together and “live happily ever after”.
Deese said he and Carmen had been together on 29 October when he strangled her husband at his home.
He told police he had grabbed Frank around the neck and squeezed until he heard a pop.
The pair then used the minivan to move the body to one of Frank’s rental properties – and returned months later to dismember it.
Deese said they used a number of tools – including a chainsaw Carmen provided – to cut up the corpse. He described how he had cut off Frank’s arms, legs and head, then sawn his torso in half.
Afterwards, the two of them had stuffed the body parts into rubbish sacks, which they incinerated in burn barrels.
Deese provided maps of where this was carried out. When investigators visited the site, they found traces of remains, which were sent to the Illinois State Police crime laboratory for further analysis.
James agreed to speak to Carmen on the phone – and their conversation was recorded. Unaware her lover had already revealed what they’d done, she was in the process of making a legal claim against Frank’s estate – which would prove unsuccessful.
Eventually, she was taken in for questioning. At first she lied to officers, but after being informed that Deese had already confessed, she asked to see a lawyer.
In July 2018, James Deese pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against Carmen, who had been taken into custody on a $2.5 million bail. In July 2019 she finally pleaded guilty to first-degree solicitation to commit murder and concealment of a murder.
On 15 July 2020, Carmen, 55, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and won’t be eligible for parole until she is 70.
The same month, Deese, now 54, was given a 25-year jail sentence for his role in the murder and dismemberment of Frank Stonemark. He will serve his full sentence, as there is no early release programme.